Noncom Ad Dilemma

Public TV and radio stations may be required to post political files online

Will noncommercial broadcasters have to start
posting political files online? That is one of many
questions public TV and radio stations will face
following a court decision that allows stations, at
least within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals, to sell political spots and issue ads.

In a blog posting, Clifford Harrington, who
heads the communications group at D.C. law firm
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, raised a number
of issues about how noncoms could proceed
with their newfound, though limited, advertising
powers (the court is not letting the stations sell
commercial spots, just political and issue ads).

Harrington’s points included whether reasonable
access applies to noncoms, which would
mean that stations would be required to sell
political ads even if they didn’t want to. “While the
reasonable access provision of the Communications
Act appears to exempt noncommercial
educational stations from that requirement, it is
a content-related law, and therefore raises questions
as to whether the disparate treatment of
commercial and noncommercial stations for this
purpose is constitutional,” Harrington wrote.

Then there is the question of how to set the
lowest unit-rate charge for a station that can’t sell
other types of ads. That lowest-unit-rate question
is one noncom stations are trying to answer.